Wide Awake: One Handshake, One Comment
Being stunned, and being silent

Earlier this year, my husband Joe and I attended a fundraising event where we bumped into a woman I’ve gotten to know – and like – through my work here. We were talking for a while when an executive from her organization started walking toward us.

“I want to introduce you to the publisher of SJ Magazine,” she called out to him.

As he approached, he reached out to shake hands…with Joe. His forearm touched me the tiniest bit, but enough to move me out of the way so he could meet Joe. I took a step back.

Just as his hand connected with Joe’s, my friend said rather loudly, “I want you to meet Marianne Aleardi.”

The gentleman pulled back. He quickly shook Joe’s hand and then shook mine.

While I said hello, I could see Joe out of the corner of my eye, and it made me laugh a little. He had closed his eyes and was slowly shaking his head. I knew he was thinking, “This is not going to end well.”
But I smiled, and then we moved on. As we were walking away, Joe said, “I can’t believe that just happened.”

I could.

I’ve had many discussions with people about sexism, and in pretty much every conversation I start to realize the men I’m talking with – who are usually pretty progressive in what they consider women’s roles – think I don’t experience sexism. They think women who they would describe as strong or outspoken are immune to the prejudice.

I was once in a meeting where everyone was signing documents when one of the men said – out loud, in a group of business people – that I should sign my name at the top of the paper, because I like being on top.

Yeah, that really happened.

So the notion that only weak women experience sexism (which implies it’s only a problem because they are overly sensitive) isn’t true.

And here’s the kicker: In both those instances, this strong, outspoken woman said nothing. I shook that man’s hand, smiled and walked away.

In that meeting, I froze. I was so stunned, I could feel my body stiffening and I couldn’t move. I really didn’t know what to do. I had been speaking to someone across the table and I kept my attention directed at them, pretending I didn’t hear the comment. No one acknowledged what was said. I was embarrassed, and I hadn’t done anything to be embarrassed about.

These men and their outdated beliefs and inappropriate thoughts cut me down quickly and sharply. In both those examples, I was the owner of a successful company, yet their words and actions made my success meaningless. I became an invisible wife standing next to her husband, and then someone to be seen as a sexual being. In my day-to-day life, these thoughts never cross my mind, so it’s shocking (and paralyzing) when I’m reminded some people think that way.

I wish I had different endings to those two stories. So I could write about how I reminded that guy men aren’t the only people who own companies, or called out the jerk in that meeting for being such a jerk. That’s what I should have done. That’s what you’d think I would have done.

I’m trying to figure out what it means that I didn’t respond. I know it doesn’t mean I’m weak. It doesn’t mean I’m overly sensitive, and it doesn’t mean I’m powerless, except in those exact moments.

I’m not sure what the answer is. I just hope the next time a man says something to put me in my place, I can ignore the shock and stop him. My goal wouldn’t be to embarrass him or lecture him or yell at him. My goal would be to make an impression in his brain, so maybe he doesn’t do it again. I’m not sure how many impressions it will take. But honestly, I’m not sure I’ll be able to speak up. And that surprises even me.


Follow Marianne Aleardi on Instagram and on Twitter.

May 2017
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